gear

Gear / REI Flash 60 Women's Backpack / The sophisticated big sister to Flash 52

Summer in western Montana is when I love roaming trails when wildflowers are bursting all over, while big fluffy clouds float across huge blue skies. Right now in early spring, the hills are at the cusp of turning fully green. I have to pay close attention because everything is bursting into life!
 
This summer, I’m looking forward to getting to know the wildernesses around me more intimately. Have you heard of the Bob, the Missions, the Rattlesnake, or the Absoroka-Beartooth wildernesses? Most of those aren’t famous like Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, but they hold understated wonders I want to explore at a slower pace, to soak them all slowly in.
 
REI sent me a new pack recently, the Flash 60. I like to call her the more sophisticated big sister to my previous Flash 52 because of some feature improvements. I’m particularly looking forward to using the pack because it’ll make my trips more comfortable. Let me give you my REI Flash 60 Pack Laydown and highlight a few features I’m pretty stoked about.

First, I’m a major sweaty back girl, so put a pack on it and I instantly get a mini waterfall down my back every time I go backpacking. The new ventilation system in the Flash 60 is going to be a rock star in keeping my sweaty back drier (finally!).

Then there are two simple design changes I adore: (1) slanted side pockets for easy access to my water bottles without having to take off my pack, and (2) small cords to strap on my hiking poles to my pack and the small inserts where I can hide the cords when not in use! As a designer, these are both simple design solutions I really appreciate. One makes it easy to access my water bottles without hassle and the other satisfies my desire for organization. ;) Lastly, I’m stoked to find that they’ve increased the size of the hip belt pockets to fit my smart phone and lots of snacks. (I love snacks!)

These practical changes in the REI Flash 60 make life on the trail a little more comfortable and a littler easier so you can forget about the gear and focus on what the trail’s connecting you to. Perhaps some wildflowers, fluffy clouds and big blue skies await you too.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, in partnership with REI.


Product Review: Peak Design Capture Camera Clip

I was skeptical at first. I mean, can a clip really make a difference while backpacking? I don't think so. Plus, I don't want extra weight if I can help it. Right?

Giiiiiirl....the Capture Clip made by Peak Design has completely changed the way I interact with my camera on the trail.

I took it on a 7-day backpacking trip and was SO glad to have it securely on my pack the entire time. My camera never felt like it was going to fall off and it never bounced around (like it does when I have a neck strap). In the beginning, I kept checking to make sure nothing was loose, but my anxiety was soothed every time I looked down and gave my camera a wiggle.

The one thing I'd note is that with any uneven distribution of weight, you will feel it in the shoulders. Even with my small mirrorless camera, I had to make some strap adjustments to try to create balance. 

But ladies! Even my big ole zoom lens stayed secure while I hiked. 

Photo Credit:   @yundified

Photo Credit: @yundified

Photo Credit:   @yundified

Photo Credit: @yundified

It's now a staple in my backcountry kit, whether it be for a hike or a solo backcountry trip, my camera and the Capture Clip go hand-in-hand.

Thanks!
xo

Gear / How to find backpacking gear for free (or cheap)

Before you decide to go buy a bunch of gear without having much backpacking experience, please take a moment to pause.


[Take a deep breath and relax. Feel the excitement in your body and let go of any anxiety you have about acquiring gear. Seriously, take one big deep breath now.


An alternative way of approaching your first backpacking trip.
We are bombarded with messages to buy buy buy. Our pervasive consumer culture permeates every aspect of the outdoors industry too. No surprise, just ironic. (I mean I even have ads and affiliate links on my lil ole site.) 

When you want to get into backpacking, it can feel particularly overwhelming to figure out what to buy. A visit to REI might leave you feeling depleted because of all of the options and the lack of knowledge to make the best decision. (I mean your life is on the line, isn't it? We're talking about your survival in the woods!) Naturally, each purchasing decision feels big. A sleeping bag suddenly isn't just about a sleeping bag, it's about your survival, your life. 

[Is it time for another deep breath?]

I want to offer another framework. Instead of thinking of your first backpacking trip as "a big survival adventure that requires a huge financial cost where you suddenly acquire a whole crap-ton of gear you may never use," consider it as an invitation to invest in one backpacking experience. Just one.

You will be okay. 
I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of fear around going backpacking. The thing that people will attest to being one of the most empowering experiences ("Wow, I can't believe I carried everything I need to survive on my back") can be the thing that causes the most concern ("What if I don't bring what I need to survive, or it's not enough?"). 

Those fears are normal. They lessen with experience, but they are very real. Be smart, listen to your gut, don't take foolish risks in the wilderness and study up before you head out. You will be okay. And trust me, you're thinking will change rather quickly. 

Buying gear is scary because it asks you to commit to something you don't know if you even like.
Even with generous return policies by many of the major companies, it still feels like a big commitment to buy a $300 tent, doesn't it? What if you don't even like backpacking after all? Or what if you do like backpacking, but the tent was difficult to set up and the zippers were loud (don't worry, all zippers are strangely loud!). Ugh, now you have to go return the used tent and worse, if the sales rep asks you if there was anything wrong with it, you have to come up with something to say. Well skip it. Get it out of your head and go straight to the next point. 

Don't buy any of the major pieces of gear. Borrowing from friends or renting is the way to go.
Ask your coworkers, your family, your friends if they've gone backpacking before. Do they have a backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent you can borrow? Ideally, find a backpack from another woman so it's sized a smidge better for you. If you can go light, try to seek out lighter backpacking gear too. You'll thank yourself for it later. 

If you don't know anyone at all, try renting gear. Here are some places to consider to rent gear for your first backpacking experience. 

When you borrow/rent, the gear won't feel just right or as comfortable and light as you'd like. That's normal since you won't even know what you like the first time around. Just pick one and go for it. It doesn't have to be the "right one." You'll learn what you like and don't like on the trip and those lessons are valuable. It's a 100% learning trip, so keep that in mind.

Go on your first trip, enjoy it, learn, and then decide if you want to go again. You might catch the backpacking bug (no pun intended). If you're not sure if it was your thing, borrow gear again and try it out a second time. Apply what you learned. You'll know when it's time to start purchasing gear when you find yourself wanting to go back again and again. (And how to purchase gear is a whole other blog post!)

Any questions? Know any other gear rental resources you'd recommend? 

Gear / Some spoony comparisons

SQS-spoons.jpg

You gotta eat, so what utensil are you going to take?

I'm a super simple eater in the backcountry because I don't want to deal with making and cleaning up complicated meals. Boil water, wait, eat: that's all I want to do. This doesn't mean I don't like to eat tasty and healthy food; my meals just need to be a 1-step process.

With this approach, I've found I can simplify the tools I need to one thing: a spoon. 

(L to R: Sea to Summit spork, Light My Fire Spork, GSI Pouch Spoon)

I've used the Sea to Summit spork for a while now and honestly don't really like it. I got the spork version because I thought I'd need it one day if I wanted to try someone else's food out on the trail. Well, I can report that I've never needed a spork to have a bite of someone else's good lookin' food. In fact, the spork aspect of it can be quite annoying. 

The blue Light My Fire spork is a 3-in-1 utensil I found on the Teton Crest Trail last fall. Too bad for whoever lost it because they were probably slurping up their food for the rest of their trip. The spork is functional, but has too many features for my needs. 

That last GSI Outdoor Pouch Spoon is my husband's, so I threw it in the mix. It's the "heaviest" of the three by 0.1 oz, but the one I prefer most. 

The one I've had my eye on lately is the 0.56oz Snow Peak Titanium Long Spoon, but for a whopping $19.95, I can't get myself to pay up! The long handle and compact size are certainly enticing.

Of these, which one seems most appealing to you?

Pooping in the Woods / What's your poop kit look like?

Okay, a couple days late, but here's Day 7: A QUICKIE ON POOPING IN THE WOODS.

I'll be frank here, I (really) dislike pooping while squatting over a small hole, when my nose is closer to my poop than it ever would be if i were sitting on a toilet. This process is both fascinating and gross, but mostly gross. I don't like it. Period. Did I mention I don't like it? 

With that said, I've accepted it as an essential part of my wilderness journey. So why not talk about how to do it effectively. The Pacific Crest Trail Association's WILD page does a great job of explaining it too, but here's my take:

POOP KIT SUPPLIES

  • Trowel (0.6oz, one of the lightest ones out there!)
  • Toilet paper
  • Soiled TP Bag (STP Bag)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bag to hold all of the above
  • Total weight: 1.9oz

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Dig a cat hole about 6-8" deep.
    • TIP: If you are the type who has to go as soon as you wake up, then make sure you dig your cat hole the night before. When there's urgency, you're cat hole will likely be too shallow because you'll say, "Ahhh, this is good enough!" Well, it's probably not. So plan ahead!
  2. Get your STP Bag open and ready for the next TP deposit
  3. Squat down to take care of business. Make sure to aim into your your cat hole.
  4. Get some TP ready, think about application so you're utilizing all of it. No big wads and wasting here!
    • TIP: Use a smooth rock to do a big first wipe to conserve TP, then use just a couple squares to do the finishing wipes. Toss the rock in your cat hole. 
  5. Carefully fold the dirty TP in on itself to cover up your poopy TP and place inside your STP Bag. (Your quads should be burning right about now!)
  6. Quick, pull up your undies and pants. 
  7. Remove air and seal up your STP Bag.
  8. Give your poop a swirl with some dirt (to help with decomposition), fill your cat hole all the way and do your best to return the earth the way you found it. 

RULES TO ABIDE BY

  • Do not bury your TP. Not cool. 
  • Make sure you dig at least 6-8" deep. If you know you usually have a big load, dig deeper and wider. 
  • Don't just poop on the ground and roll a rock on top of it. That's straight irresponsible.
  • Be at least 200' from water, campground, and trail. The further away, the better. 

TIP: Add some baking soda to your STP bag for odor protection. Want more odor control? Add a half drop of essential oil and rub it on the inside of the bag.

What's in your poop kit? Do you have any fun tips or tricks you've developed for pooping in the woods? Please share them in the comments!

*Disclaimer: I received the trowel mentioned in this post for free, to try out and review. I'll be providing a closer look at how well it digs in a follow-up post.